Today would have been my mom’s 64th birthday. She died 28 days ago, after battling pancreatic cancer for almost 9 years. My mom was tough, determined, and incredibly giving of her time and love. She was also the person who ignited my passion for food and nutrition, and my best memories of her involve being by her side in her kitchen, mixing, scooping, baking and tasting.
Today, on her birthday, I choose to remember and honour my dear mamma by thinking about the legacy of cooking that she passed on to me. These are the most important lessons she taught me, as related to food and cooking. But, really, these lessons hold true for pretty much any life experience.
I hope these lessons might give you some inspiration in your kitchen, and your life. And, if you can, give your mom an extra hug today, from you, and from me. I wish I was able to celebrate the day with mine.
There is not a recipe out there that can’t benefit from some creative adjustments.
I often say that I am completely unable to follow a recipe as written. This is 100% something that I inherited from my mom. She was compelled to put her own twist on everything she made – add a little cinnamon, tweak the baking time, add some chocolate chips. She had spent so many hours exploring food that she had confidence in her instincts, and on the rare occasion it didn’t turn out, she ate it anyway!
There will always be veggies on the table, no matter how simple they may be.
Growing up, there was never any question about whether there would be veggies included in our meal. As far back as I can remember, every mealtime featured, at the very least, a plate of sliced raw veggies – cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes. As we got older, those veggies were often in the form of a salad, and several ingredients came from my mom’s own gardens. I don’t remember my sister or me ever whining about having to eat veggies – the expectation was just that we eat them, because they had always been part of our daily diet. Plus, veggies are delicious – you just have to know how to prepare ‘em.
Grow your own – it’s economical and soothing.
Speaking of veggies, my mom had the greenest of thumbs. From flowers, to herbs, to veggies, she was always growing something. She found great solace in the quiet and the physical labour of growing plants and loved to serve up a salad of something that she foraged or grew in her own backyard. When she was really sick and could no longer do the work, she loved to sit and gaze at her plants, and the many birds that enjoyed them as much as she did. My mom’s love of gardening inspired this ancestral urge in me to grow my own food – to squat down and work the earth with bare hands, to weed and tend to small sprouts, to water, and, eventually, reap a harvest that I have grown myself.
Homemade is always infinitely better than store-bought.
Partly out of frugality, and partly because of her knowledge around nutrition, my mom made almost everything from scratch. I was the kid who brought homemade bread for my sandwiches, homemade granola bars, and even had homemade hummus and crackers in my lunchbox. Although there were times I wished I could have fruit gushers or lunchables like everyone else at school, overall I was acutely aware of how lucky we were to have a mom who cared so much, and had such skill, to put the best possible food on the table. And for the record – we did not have a lot of money. I mentioned frugality, and by making these things herself, my mom was able to keep our food budget down when things were tight.
Food can express love, gratitude, and kindness. Offer it liberally.
We always joked that my mom was a “feeder”. She got so much pleasure out of seeing people she loved enjoy the food she made, with love. She was always encouraging guests to “eat more, eat more”, and even used her baking as a currency sometimes. In high school, I stayed over at a friend’s house at least once a week for theatre rehearsals. Although I’m sure my friend’s mom didn’t mind having me, my mom would always bring her a loaf of freshly-baked rye bread as payment. When friends were going through hard times, or had generously given us gifts, and for every social gathering our family attended, my mom showed up with her own baked goods in hand. I think this is one of those cultural traditions that is starting to die out, and I’m doing my best to keep it going, in memory of her.
Good nutrition is essential, but so are sweets.
If you knew anything about my mom, you knew that she made the most incredible cinnamon buns. And chocolate balls. And butter tart squares. And brownies. And… My mom loved to bake, and the thing she loved to bake the most, was sweets. Sometimes (especially when we were young) she cut back on the sugar in recipes, used honey or maple syrup, or added in other healthy ingredients. But she always had sweet baked goods around, because food is for enjoying as much as it’s for nourishing. I’m so grateful she taught me that balance, because it forms the foundation of my nutritional approach in my coaching, and my own life.
Mamma, I miss you beyond belief. Thank you for being my hero, my inspiration, my teacher, and above all, the most perfect mother I could have asked for. Today, I’ll be baking for you.